Meet the Staff: Monica


FR: What’s your job here at the Park?

My official title? Nature Instructor. I’m really a jack of all trades though, I do a little bit of everything in the park. I’ve caught frogs to feed the hognose snake, I do animal care, I teach classes, I teach scout classes, I maintain the letterboxing trail and carve the stamps for them, I’ve worked on the nature library, I’ve been a facilitator for the Master Naturalists, I work with the Trout in the Classroom and Nature in the Classroom, plus, we take nature programming to Title 1 schools.

FR: That’s a lot! How did you get involved with the Park?

Monica: The first time we visited Fountains rock as when my son was 3, he came for a class and continued to take classes. My daughter took classes here and when she went to school I came to take the MN course. During that course they were looking to hire a nature instructor and so I applied. They’ve been stuck with me ever since.

FR: What do you mean ‘ever since’ haha?

We’ve been coming to this park for 11 years now, so I was patron of the park before I was an employee. I don’t usually have the money to give so I give my time instead. A lot of the work I do is on a volunteer basis.

FR: Do you have any background in the outdoors?

Monica: I have no formal outdoor education, but I grew up in the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana (the east side of the Rocky Mountains) and I’ve always enjoyed hiking and being out in nature, it’s very relaxing to me. With kids, they’re always like “mom what’s this” which is why I took the Master Naturalist course to get the resources to identify all the things they were asking me about.

FR: So the kids are into nature as much as Mom is?

Monica: I have very nature curious kids. They like to go hiking, they like to fish, and we go letterboxing which brings us out to trails we wouldn’t see otherwise. We do first day hikes on New Year’s Day and have actually been to 4 different state parks for that. In the summer we like to roll over logs and see what we can find. They actually enjoy going camping, to New Germany for example, where there is no TV or Wi-Fi or anything. It’s not torture for them.

FR: We hope everyone feels that way! What about your own childhood?

Monica: I grew up on a farm, so we had all the area of the farm and all the area around it. We were always going hiking or camping or fishing. We actually use to go cut our own Christmas trees. My Girl Scout camp was on the edge of the Bob Marshall wilderness. So even for camp I was way out in nature.

FR: So Maryland’s mountains. Are they really mountains? Or are they just hills?

Monica: Maryland is a lot different from Montana, but that’s part of the reason I like Fredrick County. When I first moved here it was in Bethesda, then New Germantown. Fredrick county reminds me of home, there’s trees, obviously, but there’s still mountain (hills) etc. Plus you’re close to Baltimore and DC so you can take advantage of all the cultural things like museums, zoos, events, etc. So you get the best of both worlds. My son and I were actually took a micro-paleontology event at the National History Museum and we went to a really cool geoscience event in Baltimore where they got to make earthquakes by jumping on the floor and other geology things. There’s lots of opportunity.

FR: Why is environmental education important to you?

Monica: Because I think we care about what we know about. Even if it’s something simple like learning about how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, even if it’s small like that, then you care about something. If you teach kids to care about smaller things when they’re younger, they’ll care about larger things when they’re older. A lot of times, I learn a lot just from peoples’ questions. That’s why I like to host because there is always a question someone asks me that I don’t know – so we get to look it up and learn together.

FR: What are some of your favorite programs?

Monica: The geology programs. And really the animal programs, like “Awesome Animals.” And the programs that take you around the park, I like hiking in the park.

FR: So it sounds like all of them?

Monica: I was just about to say that! There’s a reason I’m here I guess. It’s kind of like playing, so if you enjoy it, it’s not work.

FR: Tell me a little bit about letterboxing?

Monica: For letterboxing you follow a set of clues to a letter box, in there you’ll find a stamp and a log book. You’ll have your own personal stamp and log book; you stamp the box stamp in yours and yours in theirs. So the letter-boxer can see everyone who has visited the letterbox and you have a collection of all the boxes you’ve found. The majority of clues can be found online at letterboxing.org or atlasquest.com.

FR: And you actually do more than just that, right?

Monica: I carve my own stamps. I like carving the stamps. I did some for the park; because its small we only have one trail but we switch out the stamps seasonally. There are four boxes here so you have the opportunity to get sixteen stamps. Those were the original ones which did have something to do with the park. Everything is local. For my personal ones, I’ve carved all sorts of different things. My personal stamp right now is a turtle, and the kids are a pterodactyl and a blue kangaroo. My favorite personal traveler is one my daughter made, which is a Rainbow Fairy Mommy with blue hair, which is funny because I had blue hair at one time.

FR: Last one, give us a fun fact.

I’ve been sledding on top of Logan Pass in Glacier National Park in July.


Next up, Monica is teaching the Rustic Arts classes, you can sign up for those classes at recreater.com

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Meet the Staff: Sam

sam-and-gloriaFR: What’s your job here at the Park?

Sam: I’m a Nature Program Instructor/ Animal Care Technician. I teach many classes at Fountain Rock, and I also take care of our wonderful animals in the nature center. I have also been working to develop our bee and wasp displays and am currently working on a project to create a bee hotel.

FR: Oooh, give us some more info on the bee hotel.

Sam: The hotel is going to be a sanctuary where many native Maryland bees can live. It’s going to be a small enclosure filled with natural wood and places for solitary bees to live. Bees are a very important pollinator in our world and we need to do what we can to help them survive. Pesticides have really degraded their immune system so any little help we can do is great.

FR: How did you get involved with the Park?

Sam: I was working in a lab and I was quite unhappy, I was working like six hours straight without seeing the sunlight; it was very depressing. So I quit my job, got an interview here and fell in love with the place. Being around great people, educating the public, and working outside makes me much happier. I fell in love with our observational bee hive in the nature center and through that I found my passion for doing bee research. I’ve actually taken some bee keeping classes and plan on applying to grad school to do bee research.

FR: Do you have any background in the outdoors?

Sam: I grew up doing Girl Scouts, my mother was our troop leader, so I was always involved with a lot of outdoor activities. After college and being out in the real world, you kind of lose sight of the importance of nature so this was a good opportunity to get back in touch with my more adventurous side. Nature is a place you can have an adventure in. You could be boring and have a desk job 9am-5pm paying off bills, but nature will always be there to give you an adventure and let you relax from the real world – if that makes sense.

FR: It does to us! Why is environmental education important to you?

Sam: It’s the future. One of the biggest problems facing our world and humanity is the pollution and destruction of our environment. And it’s important to educate the next generation so they can make changes for the better. We teach the importance of nature, how it does affect our day to day life and it’s not something that should be put behind a glass enclosure. You live in it and it will affect your everyday life. It’s important to nurture it for the next generation. We teach the younger ones about observation: it’s very easy to take a hike and tell yourself you didn’t see anything – it take a certain type of person to stop, observe and see what’s around us. That’s when you get to see all the life around us, the trees, the birds, the insects, the sounds.

FR: Reminds us of our own park. What are some of your favorite programs?

Sam: I really enjoy nature pals. It was the first class I taught by myself, it’s with the younger group of kids from 0 to 3. Its great being able to have the kids connect with nature but also seeing the parents being involved with it as well. It brings families together, and lets them enjoy what we have to offer.

FR: Last one, give us a fun fact.

Sam: My favorite animal is a fox. I have a fox tattoo, I have a dozen fox stuffed animals, I have a fox hat with fox ears. I’m known as the crazy fox lady. The reason why I love foxes so much, is because they’re a good representation for who I am. They’re mysterious and elegant creatures from afar yet when they open their mouths it’s nothing but screeches and giggling. (Editor’s note: When I first met Sam, she was indeed dressed in a fox costume.)

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Deep in Trout

I am in awe of nature. The life cycles of millions of species seems to flow so effortlessly. Growing up in Montana hiking in parks and forests and fishing in streams, rivers and lakes I had no idea all of the complex interactions taking place around me. Through the Trout in the Classroom program at Fountain Rock Park, I have learned how much work it is to try to recreate nature in captivity. I feel passionately about the Mid-Atlantic Trout in the Classrooms mission to introduce students to cold water conservation in order to make them better protectors and advocates for clean and healthy waterways.

In 2015 I had my initial training to be part of the Trout in the Classroom Project. We successfully raised about 124 trout from egg to release. In 2016 I took an additional training session to better assist with the 2016-17 Trout in the Classroom Project. On December 16, 2016 Fountain Rock took delivery of our eyed eggs for the current program. The eggs began to hatch before Christmas. The sac-alevin have absorbed their sacs and have just been released into the tank.

Each year schools all over the state of Maryland and the country take part in the Trout in the Classroom Project. Under teacher supervision, students set up a tank with a chiller, bubbler and filter. They carefully de-chlorinate the water and add beneficial bacteria to prepare for their special delivery of eyed trout eggs. Delivery day means carefully tempering the water and placing the eyed eggs in a basket to monitor their health. Students test the water, perform tank maintenance and monitor the eggs until they hatch into sac-alevin.20161230_133005-003 After hatching the alevin absorb their yolk sack while growing into all of their fishy features. They learn how to swim up to get food before being released from their nursery basket into the tank.  Students learn about the very specific stream requirements wild trout need to survive and thrive and the importance of trout to the greater food web. Students raise their trout to the parr stage and eventually release them, usually in May, into
pre-approved streams.

The Trout in the Classroom tank at Fountain Rock Park is located in the Nature Center. Since we are a nature center and not a school, the program is run by volunteers and students from our Nature Academy and Big Outdoors classes. We have special releases for our student helpers and the public in early June. We also keep a small number of trout over the summer to be cared for by our summer camp participants. The final release of trout is the last week of camp. The nature center is open to the public 10-4 Saturdays and 1-4 Sundays so anyone can come observe little trout growing.

~Monica Wenzel

Trout in the Classroom Volunteer

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